Robin Williams was a genie, a teacher, an Army radio DJ, a psychiatrist, and a serial killer. But no matter who he pretended to be on TV or movie screens, he was still Mork from Ork. For millions of people, he was an alien from another planet who landed in the Happy Days universe and made it his own. Eventually colonizing another half-hour of television with the spinoff Mork & Mindy.
Robin Williams could have been an alien. His mind didn’t work like most humans. He would make logic leaps during stand-up comedy sets where he pinged from tangent to tangent. The topics often had no connection other than Williams had something funny to say about them.
That first impression with American audiences was unforgettable. So much so that despite building one of the most impressive acting careers ever, he’s still just Mork.
Nothing ever seemed to change that. The Academy nominated him for Best Actor three times in four years from 1987 to 1991. And it was always “better luck next time, Mork.” When he finally won the coveted golden statue in 1998 for Best Supporting Actor in Good Will Hunting, he said things changed. But only for a few days.
“Even after winning an Academy Award, people going ‘Hey, Good Will Hunting. Way to go.’ Two weeks later: ‘Hey Mork!’” he laughed, recalling the memory. “It doesn’t change. It’s still in people’s consciousness from that time. … It struck a chord because it was so out of left field in that way.”
When Robin Williams left this planet in 2014 there were mass memorials across the internet and a few IRL. One of them, naturally, was outside of the home shown in the opening of Mork & Mindy. Fans hung flowers and photos of the actor on the white picket fence along with signs that said, “You will be missed, Mork.”
Robin Williams on Why ‘Happy Days’ Added an Alien to the Cast
Even in context, it doesn’t make much sense. Happy Days, a 1970s sitcom about the ups and downs of Midwestern teenagers in the 1950s, decided to add an alien to the cast. And it worked.
You can thank George Lucas for it. He released Star Wars on May 25, 1977, and it completely changed the world. Mork from Ork joined the Happy Days cast in February of the following year.
The idea for the character of Mork came from the son of Happy Days creator Garry Marshall. He watched Star Wars and, like the rest of the world, wanted to see more aliens on TV and in films.
Robin Williams said that the initial conversation must have been a strange one.
“I would have liked to have been there when Garry went ‘I don’t know. It’s the (70s), and we’re not doing any rectal probes,’” Williams joked.
Williams said producers auditioned every stand-up they could to find the right fit for the character. So, he went all out during his interview because he had “nothing to lose.” And that’s why he thinks he landed the part.